The race for the Republican nomination in Florida’s 4th Congressional District has a candidate for most GOP demographics.
There’s John Rutherford, the former Jacksonville Sheriff backed by many members of Jacksonville’s establishment.
There’s Hans Tanzler, the son and namesake of the first post-consolidation mayor of Jacksonville, who is backed by the establishment members not behind Rutherford.
There’s Lake Ray, a career politician who resigned the Chair of the Duval County GOP to run to succeed Ander Crenshaw.
And there are others, including St. Johns County Commissioner Bill McClure and some candidates whose path to victory appears narrow from the heart of Duval County.
And, as of last week, there is one more candidate in the race, a political unknown who some Republicans at the beach (and elsewhere in the district) believe has a unique value add: Julia Fletcher, who says that when it comes to the campaign, she’s “running toward the firing” of the big guns of the other candidates, all of whom are male and older.
Fletcher, a conservative Republican since the age of 18, has never run for office. She tells FloridaPolitics.com that she’s been otherwise occupied.
“I spent 13 years in active duty on the away team,” Fletcher, who has degrees from George Washington and Georgetown in Washington, D.C., quipped. “Now I want to work for the home team.”
Fletcher, commissioned as an officer in 2004, left the service in 2016 as a lieutenant commander.
This desire to run, as seems to be the case with many candidates for office, was born when Crenshaw opted to stand down for re-election. Fletcher said her husband urged her to run.
Clearly, she took his advice.
While a “great pool of appointed and elected officials” is in the crowded race, Fletcher notes that pool, until her entry, did not include military veterans.
And that’s a big deal to Fletcher, an advocate of “having more veterans in Congress.”
“Nobody hates war like a soldier,” Fletcher said.
The story — how she became a veteran, and what she went into the military to do — serves as her most compelling drawing card.
“It changed me.”
Those words, about the September 11 attack, ring truer for Fletcher than for most.
“I watched the Pentagon burn from my dorm room window,” Fletcher said.
From there, she went out and began the process to enlist.
Fletcher’s military career took her from a deployment on the USS Enterprise, where she was instrumental in intelligence operations in the Iraqi and Afghani theaters, to being the first active duty intelligence officer assigned to the Seabees. Fletcher oversaw intelligence operations under the aegis of the U.S. Navy and multiple partners in global security.
From there, she eventually became a flag aide (an admiral’s assistant), and then found her way to Mayport, where she did several deployments, including to Latin America, as part of a major multinational exercise.
And from there, the NCIS Reserve at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, where she focused on administrative work, and also deployed for counter-narcotics and security operations in Colombia and Honduras on joint missions with DEA, FBI and other agencies.
A case that she can make: the wars that the armchair militarists urged on for the last decade plus, she actually went and fought in a meaningful way, often blazing trails that most first-time candidates couldn’t even imagine.
Fletcher sees herself as the logical heir to the tradition of Crenshaw, Tillie Fowler, and Charles Bennett, and uniquely able — as a 13-year Navy veteran with global experience in the War on Terror and the War on Drugs — to ensure that Jacksonville, which currently has the third largest Navy presence in the country, remains a “strategic hub for the Navy.”
And there is a lot of Crenshaw she seeks to emulate.
His sponsored ABLE Act is one initiative Fletcher values. Another one: his fulfillment of “five of the six required functions to bring a carrier to Mayport.”
Like Crenshaw, she believes she has the “stamina to fight for the people of this district.”
“I want to be involved in decisions for the district,” Fletcher said, before noting a key irony in becoming a politician.
“I’m moving from the most respected profession [in the country] to one of the least,” she said about Congress.
Beyond national security issues, Fletcher emphasizes energy security as well, advocating a national energy policy that, as opposed to the current administration, emphasizes coal.
That coal-friendly policy isn’t just because she comes from a “holler” in West Virginia, either. It plays into private and public sector bets made in Jacksonville.
The interests of CSX, the Jacksonville-based railroad transport company, have been adversely affected because of coal regulations.
Meanwhile, Fletcher also observes that JEA, with two coal-fired power plants, likewise is adversely affected by the war on coal.
Fletcher noted, toward the end of her half hour with FloridaPolitics.com, that she did two things when she turned 18.
“I registered to vote,” Fletcher said, “and I got my concealed weapons permit.”
The idea behind both actions, as suggested by her father: to protect and ensure the rights that she has.
[Note: After this piece was published, it was pointed out that 21 was the age threshold for a concealed weapon permit, Fletcher subsequently recalled that she had done so at the age of 21.]
It will be tempting for some to discount Fletcher. She’s too young, too unknown, they’ll say.
But there’s more to her than meets the eye.
Fletcher has a quirky sense of humor — our interview included discussions of diagramming sentences, and an assertion on her part that she could name every preposition in alphabetical order.
Beyond that, Fletcher is checking the boxes most credible candidates will have to check.
She’s been to D.C. in her capacity as a candidate, and we are told there will be endorsements to come, announced at a time of her campaign’s choosing.
And she does have a path to victory as well:
If operatives for Ray, Rutherford, and Tanzler drive up each other’s negatives.
And if she can find traction in a crowded race against a bunch of men better known than she is.
And if the money is where it needs to be.
A lot of ifs, three months out.
But in comparison to the hopeless political neophytes this reporter encounters, Fletcher seems much more credible.
And for establishment politicians, dangerous.